Monster of the Week: Calibos & his Giant Scorpions

Neil McCarthy as Calibos. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty

This week's podcast episodes concern the nature of tails, so I thought we'd explore one of cinema's finest tailed monsters: Calibos from 1981's "Clash of the Titans." As you probably recall, Calibos was the the son of Thetis, goddess of the sea. He landed a cushy job caring for Zeus' winged horses, but couldn't resist slaughtering them for sport. So the king of the gods punished Calibos, twisting him into a horned, goat-legged beastman with a long, dexterous lizard's tail.

It's an interesting punishment, as it forced Calibos into a life of exile but also gave him the physical gifts necessary to thrive in the swamps and wage a campaign of terror against the hero Perseus and Andromeda, his former betrothed. As we see in Ray Harryhausen's fabulous stop-motion sequences, Calibos' tail is rather active, doubtlessly contributing to balance and perhaps even offering prehensile abilities as well.

Giant Scorpions & Lost Anuses

Of course, Calibos' tail is nothing compared to that of the scorpion -- especially the giant variety he unleashes on Perseus in the film. As Joe and I discuss in this week's podcast episodes, the scorpion's curved tail terminates in a venomous stinger. The creature uses it for self defense or against large and feisty prey. About 25 species in eight genera possess venom capable of killing a human, though I imagine any species would prove deadly if mutated with gorgon blood. Clever, Calibos!

Scorpions have changed little in the past 400 million years. They probably evolved from the long-extinct Eurypterids (sea scorpions) that also featured a segmented, spiked tail. Was this tail venomous or non-venomous? We don't know. It was likely used for propulsion or balance during swimming, but eventually evolved into a venomous weapon.

Oh, and here's an interesting fact: the scorpion gut extends most of the way through the tail, positioning the anus just before the final stinger segment. This is crucial in considering the rare South American Ananteris genus of scorpions practice autotomy: they detach their tail as a defensive measure -- and, unlike tail-dropping lizards, they can't grow it back. So Ananteris scorpions don't only jettison their stinger; they jettison their anus, forcing the creature to balloon up with feces for the remainder of its life.

I think Calibos's punishment is rather tame by comparison, don't you?

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.